Updated: Jan 6
Iris had told the Osiris boy that she was on no one's team but Peter’s and that she would do what needed to be done for the two of them to survive, but she wasn’t sure that staying with the group instead of leaving to go find him and the dog was the right decision. If it wasn’t for Peter she probably would have marched out right after Geoffrey and the others had exiled Siris, but her brother was still unconscious, though his fever had broken during the night, thanks in large part to the fire that the Yakka boy had seemed to conjure from random objects like a magician.
That display of ingenuity alone should have been enough for Geoffrey to recognize as an invaluable asset, one that they could not afford to lose, but the big teen could see little past his own insecurities. He was clearly more interested in maintaining himself as the unelected leader of the group, and Osiris had been the obvious undeclared challenger.
Maybe once Peter woke up, they would leave and strike out on their own. She wasn’t interested in seeing where Geoffrey’s macho dictatorial stupidity led them. Even if the Yakka boy and Cato were dead, as she assumed they were, it would probably be smart to separate from all of the other idiots, although… She looked at the little ones and was saddened at the thought of leaving them to the cold, uncaring, Geoffrey.
She sighed and touched Peter’s face with her hand. She stroked his cheek and watched him breathe steadily. For all the world it looked like he was merely sleeping. Maybe the poison that the dragon lizards put out just incapacitated their victims long enough for the animals to make the kill. It made sense.
Weren’t Earth's Komodo Dragons like that? It seemed like they were. She wasn’t religious. As a matter of fact, the only religious person she knew of was her aunt Kathy. Her aunt was actually her great aunt. Maybe even her great, great aunt. She wasn’t sure, but Kathy was so old that her skin was nearly transparent, and so wrinkled that she thought that if it was stretched out someone could cover two other Kathies. Despite her complete ignorance on the subject, Iris silently pleaded for her brother’s life, whispering promises she was incapable of keeping to a being that she neither understood nor truly believed in. But if some invisible God of Ross 128 b suddenly answered her, she would have readily agreed to trade her life for his.
It was odd. She had never really thought that she loved Peter this deeply. If someone had asked her before waking in the dark interior of the thousand-year-dead Samsara her thoughts on her brother, she would have said he annoyed her. Love might have eventually come up, if she were pressed, but she supposed that that was what she was now…pressed, under a mountain of sudden responsibility.
When she’d realized their situation, their parents were gone forever, her priorities shifted dramatically. All she thought of now was protecting her brother, and in this place, there was a lot to protect him from.
Earlier, she had redone the bandages as they were soaked. The odd thing was that they weren’t soaked with blood, but some yellowish fluid, and as she removed them the smell almost made her wretch. Everything about what she saw sent an instinctive despair through her. The wound seemed worse…larger maybe.
He was still hot. Sweat beaded his forehead, though she had just mopped it with some of the water from her bag.
“We should be saving all our water.”
Iris turned to see Geoffrey standing behind her. His compassion only stretched as far as the precious water that dribbled down her brother’s chin.
“Maybe someone should be out there searching for more, instead of judging me on how I use my water.”
“Hey, I’m just saying…” he walked away, but Iris heard the orcish boy mumble as he left. “He’s gonna die anyway.”
Iris almost picked up the grapefruit sized rock by Peter’s head and hurled it at Geoffrey, but she yanked on the chains that bound her surging emotions and forced herself to pretend that she didn’t hear the big boy. After seeing what he had done to the Yakka boy, Iris was afraid that he wouldn’t let the fact that she was a true shareholder get in the way of doing the same to her and Peter. She couldn’t let that happen.
His eyes were closed again, and any sign of life that he had, was now gone.
“Peter?” The panic in her own voice scared her. She felt his neck and sighed in relief when his pulse pushed against her fingers. He wasn’t getting better. Maybe the antibiotics wouldn’t work against whatever bacteria was in the dragon’s bite. She stood and paced for a time, thinking.
She had grabbed most of an entire med pack back on the Samsara, and she went to it and examined the contents in more detail. She also grabbed Osiris’ pack and emptied it onto the dusty ground.
A book of the old style thumped to the ground, pages fluttering. She picked it up and realized it was made of some kind of plastic. She wiped a hand over the dirty cover and read the title.
“Field Medicine Handbook”
She spent the next day reading the book. Mostly, she used the time to come to terms with the conclusion that she had come to in the first half hour of study, and after ten or so hours her brain couldn’t take anymore so she ended up reading the pertinent chapters multiple times. Finally, she was convinced that she had to act, and that if she didn’t, Peter would never wake up.
She stood and walked to Geoffrey and his idiotic retinue who sat, lounging near the opening to the cave.
“I need to do surgery on Peter,” she said, without preamble. “He won’t make it if I don’t get that leg off,” she didn’t feel nearly as confident as she sounded, and the boy’s reactions would have been comical if the situation wasn’t so dire. Tyrone nearly tipped over, and all their mouths hung open which only made them look stupider. Geoffrey was the first to recover.
“What makes you think you’re qualified?” Iris looked around the cave with exaggerated care.
“Maybe, I don’t know, the fact that there is no one else?...Unless, of course, you want to do it?”
“Just get the children outside while I do it, but I am going to need help.”
“I’ll do it.” A quiet voice made Iris turn around. A girl of about twelve stood, listening. She had light brown hair and wore thick glasses which surprised Iris. It was rare to see glasses on people, especially a shareholder since most paid for corrective surgery.
“Do you have experience with…uh, you know? This sort of thing.” It was ridiculous to ask the question. She was twelve of course she didn’t, but why had she volunteered otherwise. Iris would be turning sixteen soon if she didn’t take into account their two-thousand year pause, and normally the girl's young age would have discounted her in Iris’ eyes, but she was desperate. She couldn’t be too picky about who she accepted help from, besides, there was a subtle strength in the girl.
The girl shook her head slowly.
“Not really.” She admitted. “But my dad was a surgeon before he was a shareholder, that’s why he was at the top of the list for the Samsara trip. I just have heard him talk and seen a few vids, but I’m still probably your best help.” She was right. She turned back to Geoffrey.
She didn’t even have to say anything, the threat of having to watch such a terrifying thing was scarier than whatever threat was outside the cave, and Geoffrey got the kids moving in short order.
The girl’s name was Clair and they set about, nervously gathering what they would need. Most of what they needed was in the packs, with the exception of the most important tool, but Iris convinced one of the boys to lend her his weapon. It was a lethal-looking two foot razor-sharp piece of metal with a folded end that was used as a handle. It was essentially a heavy sword, and as she inspected it she was sure that it could do the job, whether she could or not was still to be decided.
Iris’ parents weren’t doctors, but they had always pushed her to be the best, or at least the best she could be. In a world that was increasingly unskilled, their behavior was seen by many as strange, even inappropriate, but Iris secretly liked it. Her attitude matched theirs in intensity and drive. When her friends were content to sit around and watch vids all day she couldn’t. She wanted to be the person making the vids, or at least worthy of them.
She found some coals and banked the fire, then sterilized the tools she would use. Her hands were shaking, but Clair gave her a reassuring nod across Peter’s still form from her and she made the first incision. She had a terrifying moment when the blood began to well up from the wound and she was convinced that she could not do it. It was all too complicated. What was she doing? She wasn’t a doctor.
“Iris.” Clair’s voice brought her back. She tore her eyes from the blood and looked at Clair. “You have to do this. No matter the result, It is your only option. Just remember the pictures in the book,” she said. Iris nodded slowly and pressed the small scalpel from the yakka boy’s pack to Peter’s leg.
She focused on the pictures that she had all but memorized during her hours of study and compared them to her brother’s leg as she went, losing herself in the work. She cauterized vessels and sewed up arteries as she came to them. Then it was the big sword’s turn and she cried as she and Clair had to use their combined weight to sever the bone and cartilage at Peter’s knee.
Hours had passed in a haze, and when it was all over, she looked up at Clair worriedly.
“He’s still with us.” She smiled at Iris and she saw her reflection in Clair’s glasses tremble as she finally let the sobs come. “It looked like you have been doing that for years.” Clair said.
Iris slouched against the wall, exhausted.
“How would you know?” Clair didn’t take offense at the words.
“I may not have ever done it, but I know what surgery looks like, and that,” she pointed to the stub where Iris had just finished bandaging. “was definitely surgery.”
Clair got up to fetch the rest of the group, and Iris leaned over to rest her head on the ground next to Peter’s. She fell asleep in seconds.
She awoke in a jerk and sat up.
Peter grunted and stirred.
“It’s okay,” She reassured. “Don’t try to get up.”
Peter stirred next to her and her heart leapt. She shifted and began caressing his cheek again.
Her brother’s eyes opened reluctantly and only halfway, as if he was afraid to allow in the reality of his new life.
“Hey,” she said. He shifted his head, peering around as much as he could without lifting his exhausted body from the cave floor. His mouth moved but his voice came out in a rasping croak when he opened it. “Here. Drink some of this.”
She held his head and placed the open end of one of her few remaining water bags to his mouth. He gulped a few swallows, but just as much spilled down his cheeks. Iris was surprised at how weak he was. She supposed that she should be happy that he woke up at all, but seeing him like this was worse somehow. Dark circles ringed his sunken eyes and he moved lethargically. His eyes opened more and he looked around. She could see the fear in their green depths. When he spoke his voice came out like sandpaper.
“Cato?” he asked. His worry for the dog saddened her, mostly because she was almost certain that, by now, the poor thing was dead, if it hadn’t been when they had dragged him from the cave.
“Don’t you worry about him. I’m sure he’s out there making the planet safe for the rest of us.”
She felt his forehead and it was no longer so hot. She thanked Great Aunt Kathy’s God and pulled his head in for a hug.